Home > Dr. Boyce: North Carolina’s Refusal to Compensate Sterilization Victims is Beyond Reprehensible

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Dr. Boyce: North Carolina’s Refusal to Compensate Sterilization Victims is Beyond Reprehensible


by Dr. Boyce Watkins, KultureKritic.com

I am not sure what to think about the state of North Carolina.  I’m always impressed with the good people I meet when I visit the state, and Research Triangle is one of the most impressive intellectual hot spots in the country.  But then, the state has a nasty, backward way of thinking, one that is a reflection of the state’s challenged racial history.  I saw some of this when I applied for a position with The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a few years ago, interacting with a few white folks who seemed to want me to carry buckets of water for them.

The state of North Carolina further damaged its reputation when it recently decided not to compensate  women who were sterilized against their will over a 45-year period.  Most of these women were black and brown, which was probably a strike against them from the very beginning.  The state decided that these women were “unfit” to be mothers, so they chose to play God and end any chances that these women could ever bear children.

The victims were only asking for $50,000 apiece in compensation, about .05% of the state’s $20 billion dollar budget.  I am not sure of the economic value of losing one’s ability to bear children, but I am willing to bet that it’s greater than $50,000.  But for some reason, the state thought this amount was too much, and sent the families home in tears.

This is the message being sent by the state to the women who’ve had their fertility stolen by corrupt and racist legislators, in exchange for no compensation whatsoever:

1)      Your babies are not valuable to us

I’m not sure how much the legislators themselves would expect to receive in a lawsuit if their wives went to the doctor for simple procedures and came out unable to have kids.  I’m sure they would ask for more than $50K.  The fact that the state is indisputably liable for this atrocity and is refusing to hold itself accountable is interesting in light of the fact that any physician committing the same act against their patient’s will would be expected to pay much more than $50,000.

2)      The pain being experienced by you and your family doesn’t affect us 
When black and brown people experience unspeakable trauma, legislators typically don’t empathize with that pain.  Thousands of black teens are dying in the city of Chicago, and the Obama Administration focuses on protecting gay kids in the suburbs.  Millions of black families are affected by mass incarceration, unspeakable unemployment and grossly unequal educational opportunities, yet legislators don’t say a word.  At times, there is an understanding that the pain of minority communities is so commonplace that it is hardly worth mentioning.
3)      We really don’t want you people to have more kids anyway
When a black baby is born, especially a boy, someone builds a prison cell for that child to occupy.  When a judge sentences a teenager to 15 life sentences for selling drugs, he does so because he believes that this child’s life is not worth redeeming.  People don’t look at black babies and see a future doctor, lawyer or rocket scientist.  Instead, they see a convict, welfare recipient or homicide victim.  Therefore, it’s difficult for some lawmakers, especially in a notoriously racist state like North Carolina, to really feel that the world lost something  special when these black children were not allowed to exist.
4)      The past is the past, and we’re hoping that we can all just forget about it 
When it comes to heinous acts committed against African Americans in the past, there is a reason that we are not well-educated about them.  It’s because those in power are hopeful that they can escape accountability for the terrible actions of the past by simply not telling anyone about them.  Some people think that if we get together at a Martin Luther King dinner every year, hold hands and sing “Well shall overcome,” everything is going to be alright.  Well, I’m sorry my friends, but wrongs don’t go away until they are rectified:  Black families continue to pay a tremendous price for actions of the past, and America expects us to simply forgive and forget while the outcomes of Jim Crow lie all around us.
The dirt of America’s history is as deep and disgusting as the computer hard drive of a serial child molester.  There is no denying that the state of North Carolina committed this repulsive crime against humanity and the fact that they are not willing to pay is highly irresponsible.  So, the next time a legislator wags his/her finger at black folks and gives us a speech on personal responsibility, we can wag our fingers back at America for not being willing to take responsibility for the past.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black WorldCoalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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